Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Night Film by Marisha Pessl | Enter Darkness

So I wasn't a hundred percent sure I wanted to read this, because I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics and wasn't as awed as everyone else. Luckily I was in the mood for something horror-like. Winter has hit Joburg and all I want to do is snuggle under a blanket with a good scary book and a nice cup of tea (or a deliciously dark glass of red wine!). So after reading the blurb for Night Film I decided to give it a shot. It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

From the very first pages I knew that this book was going to be different. Newspaper clippings, photographs and online searches are part of the story, and I find this element to be one which resonates with the time we live in. Instead of constantly being told what's happening, we can make up our own minds, based on the information supplied from these "external" sources.

We follow investigating journalist Seth McGraw in his attempt to redeem himself to the public eye through unmasking his "enemy", cult horror director Stanislav Cordova. Cordova's character is immersed in mystery, as he hasn't been seen in public since the 70s. All his movies are shot on his private estate, and he sternly refuses to do interviews. All dealings with the public go through his seemingly bland assistant Inez Gallo. And strangely, actors that have worked with Cordova refuses to talk about their experience working with him, or worse, turn up missing or die under strange circumstances. When Cordova's 24-year old daughter Ashley is found dead after what looks like a suicide, Seth decides it is time he looked into Cordova again. Along the way he picks up some unlikely sidekicks. Nora the aspiring actress and the less stable Hopper who deals drugs when he's not dedicated to the cause.

Through tracing Ashley's final movements, Seth and his helpers manage to slowly hone in on Cordova's well-guarded universe. The closer he gets, the more Seth has to realise that not everything has a logical explanation. The occult seems to be hiding behind all the doors they open, as their search takes them through mental institutions, secret internet sites, "forgotten" clubs reminiscent of the secret club in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, magical shops and finally Cordova's estate. The truth about Ashley the pianist prodigy is turning out to be a lot more complex - or perhaps a lot simpler - than Seth could ever have imagined.

Throughout the reading of this novel I had the same uncanny feeling I get when watching a David Lynch-movie. There are all these characters that seem to appear out of the blue, but you never quite know if you can trust them, or why they are there.  Lynch also uses magical and occult elements in his movies and series. How awesome would it have been to see what kind of movie would come out of this in Lynch's hands?! (The book is being adapted into a movie - I'm really excited about that, but not by Lynch, sadly.)

I haven't read a book like this before, and I can only compare it to Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted in messed-up-ed-ness. Night Film keeps the suspension tense until the end, never quite letting us go. We learn that Cordova, in his movies, always have an open ending. His viewers are not given clear answers, they must themselves decide what to take from it. Pessl similarly also leaves us with an open ending in which we can draw our own conclusion. Do we believe in the existence of mermaids, or are they mere myth?

Night Film is an extremely successful thriller/horror/transgressional novel. I climbed right into Pessl's, and Cordova's world of smoke and black mirrors, and I got completely lost in Seth's dark odyssey. I don't care if it takes Pessl another 7 years to bring out another book. If this is what I  can expect from her, I'm a complete convert. Read it read it read it read it read it! Read it! (Due for release August this year).

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